If you’re a wine lover, you’ve likely noticed that in most cosmopolitan cities these days you can’t throw a stone without hitting a natural wine bar. Akin to the concept of slow food, natural wine considers itself the liquid-equivalent, embracing holistic and organic methods of viticulture that are often quite labour-intensive.
Descriptions and explanations of natural wine tend to blur from person to person and place to place (on account of there being no governing body), but the most basic explanation of natural wine is that it’s organic or biodynamic wine made with nothing added, and nothing taken away.
We tapped a few of our expert Trip Designers around the world to see which natural wines are exciting and surprising them these days—here are a few of their top picks:
Gut Oggau – Austria
On one of the first nights of the Austro-Hungarian Wine Country Bike trip we stop in for a gourmet dinner at Taubenkobel. The lady who owns and runs the place (both the restaurant & hotel) has a sister who manages a winery not far from there: Gut Oggau.
Most of our wine-pairings for the night arrive from there, and they are spectacular.
The bottles are wonderfully illustrated and feature people’s faces rather than names and descriptions of the varieties used. As Trip Designer Mario Koch explains, “If you want to know the details, you have to ask.”
The people on the bottles represent three generations, corresponding to the three sites of their vineyards. There are the youngsters (simple, basic, fresh young wines); the parents; and the grandparents (who can, and should, age very well… and, naturally, are priced correspondingly). You can find these wines served at NOMA in Copenhagen.
Overall, they produce roughly 25,000 – 30,000 bottles per year. As natural wine producers, however, they’ve had to overcome a lot of side-eyeing in Burgenland, a very important and traditional wine growing area in Austria’s eastern state.
The town they produce in is considered Austria’s oldest red wine growing town, with production ties to the Roman time period and it’s meant that as producers of bio-dynamic wine (which less than 2% of wineries in Austria participate in), their methods are often interpreted as a criticism of the conventional system.
Nikolaihof – Austria
On the Prague to Vienna Bike trip we glide into Nikolaihof winery for a tour and tasting.
This is Austria’s oldest winery and they were the first to start producing biodynamically with Demeter certification. In 2014 their 1997 Riesling Vinothek earned them Austria’s very first 100 Parker Points (Wine Spectator); and amongst the 14 Austrian wines that received 95+ points, seven of those wines (!) came from Nikolaihof.
While the need to categorize ‘natural wine’ is new, the estate is the first to point out that they never set out with a specific intention to become biodynamic, rather they just couldn’t afford the chemicals for the vineyards and learned to make do without them.
Another anachronistic detail? They still use a 400 year old medieval wine press for some of their cuvees.